Where Are the Bees? Pesticides and the Bee Population

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Where are the bees?  Recently while looking around the net for some information for an article about organic farming and non-organic farming I came across an article about the disappearance of the honey bees.  I don’t know about you, but I have a love hate relationship with bees.  I love the fact that they make honey – yeah as a vegan that has been the cause of many an argument – for another time.

As I was saying…. I love them because they make honey and they pollinate which brings about the amazing colors of our fruits and vegetables and the reason my state is called the Garden State.  We have the best colors EVER…. Have you driven through New Jersey in the Spring and Summer and seen the amazing colors or smelled the amazing smells all around you?  Yeah…. Bees are great contributors to that phenomenon.

My only complaint about them is the sting.  I am deathly allergic to pain… no, I’m not allergic to bee stings, well at least I don’t think I am.  I was stung once when I was a little girl.  We had bee hives on my grandfather’s farm and the farm hand was helping harvesting the honey while I played around in the fields a little bit away from him….. Well, I don’t think I have to tell you that the end result was not pretty.  I wound up getting stung.  The honey was really sweet though!!!!!!!!

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So it appears that in 1995 the bee population in the United States began disappearing.  Farms began reporting significant losses.  Although it’s normal to lose a certain percentage of bees throughout the year, these numbers keep rising.  According to the USDA in 2009 there was a 29% loss, in 2010 the honey bee deaths rose to 34% and in 2012-2013 the losses rose to amounts greater than 40%-50% of all hives.  To put it in perspective, in the 1940s the bee population in the US was somewhere in the 6 million neighborhood, today we have about 2.3 million, according to Apidologie.com

These numbers really got my attention.  Where the heck are all the bees going?  And what am I supposed to do when I want great veggies, great fruits and to make my face masks (I make some of those with honey) or my cough “medicine”.  Afterall, I live in New Jersey and the Winters are long and cold and invariably I get a cold or a cough or …. Well, I need my tea and honey…. and I need to get to the bottom of this, I thought.  So I continued reading. This is what I found.

We are the reason the bees are dying!  Let me say that again in case you missed it the first time.  We are the reason the bees are dying!  So, it appears that the pesticides we use to to spray our vegetables are the cause of the disappearance of the bees.  This phenomenon has a name.  It’s called.  Colony Collapse Disorder (“CCD”).

In 1994 the EPA approved the first neonicotinoid imadacloprid.  This funny named (not so funny, actually) pesticide is a derivative of nicotine — go figure, we spend so much money-getting our humans to stop smoking and ingesting nicotine and here we are feeding it to our plants (which we use as food) and spraying it in the air which we all breathe including our plants and our animals.  For a species who claims to be so intelligent, I’m not so sure we’re living up to that claim right now.  Anyway, this type of pesticide, according to an 2011 article by Meriel Watts, works by attaching itself to the nicotine receptors of an insect which is located in the central nervous system of that insect and blocking its nerve impulses.  It appears that this causes the insect (in this case the bee) to forget how to get home. We all know that if the worker bee cannot get home the queen bee cannot produce and the hive will die little by little because the little bees do not get the food they need to survive while somewhere in the fields is one very confused bee who has forgotten how to get home…… I’m making a joke here to make this disturbing article easier to read but you have to agree with me that this is very disturbing.

As if the fact that we are killing the pollinators of our planet, which may in turn cause lack fresh fruits and vegetables, wasn’t enough, the European Food Safety Authority according to a 2013 article in the New York Times, believes that this type of pesticide may affect neuron development in children and currently recommends additional studies to better understand it.   Most European countries have banned this pesticide, yet, here, we continue to freely spray our crops and killing our bees…. Remember the statistics I gave you for the CDD were from 2013.

Some states have issued their own regulations to combat CCD.  In California farmers cannot spray bee-pollinated crops with certain pesticides during bloom times and they must notify the local bee keepers when they plan to spray with pesticides.  In New Jersey the legislature is considering a bill which will prohibit the use or sale of neonicotinoid pesticides.  However, if you are familiar with how a bill becomes a law…. it could take a while before we see this come to fruition.

The New Jersey law is a better alternative as it is an actual prohibition instead of a limitation like the California law.  The California law assumes that the farmers are notifying the bee keepers and the bee keepers are able to move the bees somewhere while the crops are being sprayed.  Pesticides are made to be resistant and therefore once sprayed they stay on the ground getting in the roots of the plants….. a limitation? although better than nothing, is not going to prevent CCD since the bees will still receive the pesticide once the spraying is done by merely doing their jobs of jumping from pollen producing flower to pollen producing flower.

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